By Vernon Felton
A year ago to this very day, the UPS man dropped this bike off on my porch. Since then, I’ve ridden Specialized’s Enduro Expert Carbon up and down the west coast. Whistler, Bellingham, Marin, Santa Cruz…I’ve been able to pedal the bike through very different conditions and it’s given me plenty of time to form an opinion on the latest flavor of Enduro. While this bike is a 2013 model, the 2014 26er iteration retains the same frame.
What’s new for 2014? The Enduro line now contains three 29er Enduros, three 26er Enduros (similar to this one) and two of the more agressive, coil-sprung 26er EVO models. The Enduro’s core–its frame–stays largely unchanged for 2014 (which is why this review is still relevant if you’re interested in a `14 model), but paint jobs and components have changed a bit. The 2014 version of the Enduro Expert Carbon model, for instance, sports the excellent RockShox Pike fork, a SRAM X01 single-ring drivetrain and different graphics.
A BETTER CLIMBER THAN BEFORE
Let me back up for a second and say that I’ve been fond of the Enduro for some time now. Back in 2011, I picked the 2011 Expert Carbon as my favorite rig of the year, but noted that it needed a 142×12 rear through axle and a bit more of a platform to truly excel as an all-rounder. The Enduro had few (if any) rivals on descents, but exhibited noticeable suspension squat. In simpler terms, the bike bobbed noticeably under pedaling, which wound up leaving me a bit knackered after a few hours of climbing. The Enduro of yore absolutely slayed the downhills, but got left in the dust on the climbs by a few of the best all-mountain models.
Specialized went back to the drawing board for 2013 and gave the Enduro a serious reboot with an eye to improving the bike’s pedaling performance. The change may not be immediately obvious at first glance, but the moment you hop aboard and get a few pedal strokes in, the change is crystal clear.
This new-generation Enduro pedals with an efficiency that is truly impressive. On the 2010-2012 Enduro, you definitely needed to take advantage of the rear shock’s firmest platform setting if you were going to do any kind of extended climbing. This new Enduro, by contrast, pedals more efficiently with the rear shock set in its “Descend” mode than the previous version pedaled in its firmest setting. More impressive still, that gain in acceleration is accompanied by no loss in bump-eating performance. Flip the lever on the Fox CTD shock into “Trail” mode, and this thing just rabbits up climbs while still providing unrivaled traction.
Small-bump compliance has always been a hallmark of Specialized’s four-bar, Horst Link suspension system and that’s still the case here. With the Enduro, it feels like your floating on a cloud as you pedal through the kind of chop that’d pound the crap out of you on other bikes. In terms of sheer suspension performance, the Enduro is astonishingly good.
What makes the Enduro truly awesome, however, is that the bike pairs that seemingly bottomless “big bike” performance with the pin-point, flickable handling that you’d expect in a trail bike. The short chainstays and low bottom bracket add up to a bike that’s obscenely fun to rip around in tight and twisty conditions.
In short, Specialized hit the nail on the head with their redesign of the Enduro. The carbon frame (the front triangle that is…the rear triangle is aluminum) weighs a good quarter-pound less than its predecessor, the rear end is stiffer (thanks to the through axle) and the bike’s climbing ability is massively improved.
What could be improved?. That’s a tough one. There are still a few bikes in this lightweight, six-inch travel (i.e. “enduro” or “all-mountain”) niche that pedal more efficiently than the Specialized Enduro, but the Enduro now comes pretty damn close to them on the climbs and definitely gets the drop on most of them when it comes to downhill performance.
If you live somewhere with a lot of mud, you’ll find pivot wear to be more of an issue on the Enduro than on most bikes with a solid rear triangle. The chainstay pivots, in particular, can get a bit gritty, though it’s not as if you’ll need to swap out bearings every season. Specialized has been making Horst-Link bikes for nearly two decades now–they’ve got the system pretty well dialed. And again, this is my experience from living and riding in wet conditions for nine months of the year. If you live in a part of the country that isn’t swathed in muck, bearing wear will be much less of an issue for you.
I did make a few tweaks to the stock bike, which you might notice from the photo. First off, the 2013 Fox Float CTD forks had a real tendency to dive under hard braking while in the “Descend” mode. I generally kept the fork in the Trail mode and just got on with it. Still, as I was a bit unhappy with that aspect of the suspension performance, it wasn’t long before my cheating heart started thinking about how it’d feel to roll around in the dirt with a burlier fork.
So… I slapped on an older Fox 36, which added a mere 1/8 of a pound to the bike, yet lent a much more confident feel to the Enduro’s front end. Don’t get me wrong, the Fox 34 is a good fork, but the 36 fork feels great spearheading this bike. I’m glad to see that Specialized is equipping the 2014 model with the RockShox Pike, which should add a bit of burl to the `14 Enduro.
I also swapped out the stock bars for some slightly wider Truvativ Stevie Smith signature bars. More significantly, I traded the stock Specialized Command Post for a Kindshock LEV. Yes, Specialized keeps improving their post every year, but I can’t do three-position posts any longer. The middle position just never feels right to me.
Total weight? In stock trim, the Enduro Expert Carbon tipped the scales at 28.15-pounds (size Large). The bike weighs less than 29 pounds as you see it here and that includes flat pedals. In short, it’s damn light.
The Enduro Expert Carbon will retail for $6,600 in 2014 (that’s with the Pike, SRAM X01 drivetrain, etc.). You can check it out HERE. If that’s too rich for your blood, it’s worth noting that the base level Enduro Comp is available in both 26er and 29er trim and sells for $3,500. Similarly, if you’re looking for a coil-sprung bike with a bit more front suspension, you can get the entry-level Enduro EVO for $3,300.
So there you have it: a lightweight, nimble bike that’s a holy terror on both the climbs and descents. There’s a reason the Enduro has earned an ardent following over the years. How does it compare to Specialized’s 29er version? I plan on finding out. Soon.